Best Ultralight Spinning Reel
In the last decade, ultralight spinning tackle has really shot up in popularity among anglers.
While they are of course perfect for small panfish species and trout and have always filled this niche, many anglers have found the thrill of chasing after larger game fish with ultralight tackle.
The latter requires a little more attention to detail in the components of your fishing reel.
Landing a small rainbow or bluegill on a ultralight tackle can feel like you’re bringing in a trophy brown or smallmouth and is one of the biggest draws to downsizing your tackle for these types of fish.
Ultralight spinning reels are designed for light and finesse fishing techniques, but you can’t keep a larger fish from being enticed by your presentation.
And there are ultralight reels on the market that can handle these fish, and the thrill is enough for many anglers to begin chasing 3 and 4lb fish with ultralight tackle. If you've already set your mind on finding a spinning reel for bass, take a look at our overview here.
In this article, we will take a look at ultralight spinning reels and discuss some key characteristics that make them suitable for not only small game fish but some larger species as well.
We will also take a look at five ultralight models that stand out when compared to the rest.
Ultralight Spinning Reel
Generally, ultralight spinning reels, or usually the smallest model available in a particular line of spinning reels come in at or below 7oz.
They usually have a max drag somewhere between 5-10lbs and can be spooled in the ballpark of 100-125yards of 4lb monofilament.
These are some of the main specs that we will use for characterizing a reel as an ultralight, but we play pretty loose with those metrics.
So this leads us to another interesting discussion of lightweight spinning reels. What can they be used for?
You, of course, have the traditional aspects of ultralight fishing, small species such as your Brook and Rainbow trout or a variety of panfish. They are perfect for small bodies of water where space around is limited and ultralight tackle will always shine in these situations.
Here's one great video that will surely make you want to go fishing ultralight:
But what about larger fish? Sure, you are limited in the size of lures and the amount of heavier test line you can use, but light lures can catch big fish too.
This has really opened up the door for chasing larger fish, within reason, of course, you have no shot at some with even the best ultralight equipment, but there is always the question of ethical fishing.
If you're planning on cooking them up the question of ethics is not as relevant, but for a sportsman just looking at catch and release, you commit to bringing them in quickly and getting them back in the water before they are exhausted to the point of death.
These are ultralight reels, which means the material used for these types of reels are often made from lighter materials such as plastic or some graphite composite.
Most reels will be a mixture of parts made from graphite or some aluminum alloy.
The body provides housing for the gears and the body's ability to resist flexing when under stress helps keep gears aligned and helps funnel more of your cranking power to the gears and spool.
This is critical if you plan on using ultralight tackle for fish above 3lbs.
The gear ratio of a spinning reel is simply the number of turns the rotor will make per one turn of the handle. As an example, a gear ratio of 4.5:1 means the rotor will make 4.5 turns to one turn of the handle.
The type of gear ratio you want in your reel varies depending on the type of fishing you have in mind. Higher gear ratios are great for using ultralight reels for the more traditional fish species that are used for as they allow you faster retrieval with light lures such as rooster tails for trout.
The drawback is that higher gear ratios often mean less power in the reel.
The size of the spool also determines line retrieval speed. Larger spools can hold more line and can lay down more line more quickly than a spool with a smaller diameter.
Of course, there is a limit to the size of the spool when it comes to ultralight reels to keep the weight down and the balance right. Ultralight spools can hold around 100-125yards of 4lb monofilament.
There is some variation between ultralight reels, but they mostly fall into this spectrum of spool size. The design is also important and will aid in casting through cutting down on the amount of "dead line" deeper within the spool.
These bearings are what give support to the internal gear mechanisms and what keeps the reel running smoothly. In most instances, more bearings usually mean a more smooth working reel, but quality of those bearings is something to keep in mind.
Any reel is going to run smoothly right out of the box, but a reel with five quality, stainless steel, and shielded bearings are going to work better under duress and for a longer period than a reel with eight cheap bearings.
For ultralight reels used for normal ultralight fishing applications, you are normally only going to have between 1-3 bearings.
If you want to take on fish species greater than 3lbs, you are going to need the upper end of that number and maybe more.
While a high functioning drag system is an important component to any fishing reel, it is paramount for an ultralight reel being used to chase after fish getting up past 1-2lbs.
Even for small fish, the drag needs to engage smoothly with as little start-up inertia as possible when dealing with lighter lines.
When trying to land 2.5lb fish on these reels, it's critical to have no start-up inertia and have full control over the drag range.
Ultralight Spinning Reel Reviews
The Shimano Sienna 1000FE model ultralight reel weighing in at 7.4oz and has a spool capacity of 110yards of 6lb monofilament.
This is an impressive number for such a small sized reel, and while you will probably never need this much for perch or brookies, it is very useful if you happen to hook up with a larger fish.
That is about the only feature of the Sienna that makes it suitable for going after species not usually chased with ultralight tackle. It does have a max drag of 9lbs, and the drag engages smoothly with little start-up inertia, but we have noticed that up around the high end of the range, you lose some of the fine adjustments.
Retrieval with this reel is smooth and remains so when landing common fish species you would normally use this size reel for. The reel only uses one ball bearing along with a roller bearing, but the quality is high enough for the reel to remain smooth.
The Dyna-Balance technology used by Shimano also helps with the smoothness of retrieve, but it only goes so far. Hook a big fish on this reel, and you will immediately notice a loss in efficiency.
Overall, we like the design and the feel of the M-compact graphite body. It is extremely compact and balances wonderfully with an ultralight rod, but it can be cumbersome to work with if you happen to have large hands.
It might sound like we do not like this reel from some parts of the review and for going after larger fish, we don't think it's the right choice, but for normal ultralight applications, the Sienna is wonderful on the water and has Shimano's quality construction.
- Very Affordable
- Well constructed
- High max drag
- Smooth drag
- Love the rotor and line lay
- Excellent smoothness with small fish
- High line capacity for its size
- Has trouble with anything over 1lb
We are again stretching out our criteria for an ultralight spinning reel with the 2X10 model of this reel line. The reel comes in at 7.5oz, and while it is a little heavier than other reels on this list, the design of it balances really well with short and light rods.
The reason we put this reel on this list is because of the incredible drag. It is a Carbon Matrix hybrid drag system that can put out 10lbs of drag which blows us away for the size of the reel.
For going after larger game with ultralight tackle, the Revo SX can get it done with this drag system. It is incredibly smooth and consistent and will remain so even if all 110 yards of 6lb test mono gets run off the spool.
This reel has no issues in retrieval for normal ultralight fishing applications with six quality HPCR stainless steel ball bearings, and an IM-C6 carbon graphite can take the brunt of the force and keep the gears turning.
This is another reason this lightweight reel is one of the better choices for using ultralight tackle to chase after large fish. With a 6.2:1 gear ratio and a 30” retrieval rate, you can get fish in quickly and have a lot more versatility in fishing techniques.
The casting on the Revo SX 10 model is leaps and bounds beyond other models. The inclined spool lip design of the reel as well as the slow oscillation, which does a great job at preventing twist and line overlay within the spool, lets line flow near effortlessly off of the spool and allows you to get those extra yards of distance.
- One of the top ultralight drag systems
- Unbelievable casting and control
- Can get you some leverage on medium sized fish
- Large spool capacity
- A little heavier but has good balance
- High retrieval rate
- Is a little pricier
Plueger’s President line of spinning reels tends to make a lot of lists when it comes to the top spinning reels so it should be no shock that their 20X and 25X models make this one as well.
Harkening back to our criteria for an ultralight reel, the 25X falls a little bit out of the weight range at 7.2oz, but we are going to keep it on the list and discuss it as an ultralight.
These reels are constructed with a graphite body and rotor that we think stands up well to normal wear and tear and also does well resisting body flex when a little more pressure is applied to them. The body can take the pressure of a one or two lb bass without a problem.
As with most ultralight reels, you're not going to be putting much cranking power on fish, and you're ability to get fish in is going to rely on the drag performance. The arm, bail, and spool are aircraft grade aluminum and can withstand a lot of abuse.
With that being said, you can notice the gearing is not at peak performance when trying to work larger fish. You can still get them in, and this reel has other features that make it capable, but you can notice the difference.
Both of these models have a gear ratio of 5.2:1 which is quite impressive for reels of this size. Line retrieval rates are also impressive with 20.7 and 22.4 inches for the 20 and 25 model respectively.
The 20X ultralight reels have seven ball bearings while the 25X model has a whopping ten and the quality and positioning of them in these reels shows. The President is easily one of the smoothest ultralight reels we have worked with.
Casting is also phenomenal with these two models. The rotor and line guide are one of the best at minimizing line twist an line seems to leave the spool effortlessly.
Both the 20X and 25X models can spool over 100 yards of 4lb test and nearly 100 yards of 6lb test.
The sealed drag system on these reels is as impressive as the rest of the reel. With 6 and 8lbs of max drag from the two models, it’s definitely enough to be able to haul in a larger fish if you happen to find one on the end of your line.
You lose some control of the adjustment at the higher end of the drag range where it seems the pressure jumps pretty wildly. Besides that, it is smooth and consistent throughout a fight, and the start-up inertia is really low which is critical for light lines.
We do like the aluminum handle and the soft touch rubber grip. They sit well enough away from the reel to keep you from knocking the bail, but the balance is still there.
- Phenomenal smoothness of the retrieve
- Excellent spool capacity
- Low start-up inertia
- Comfortable handle
- Not the best control of the drag
Where some of the other models in this review can be used for larger fish, the Daiwa D-spin does not fit into that category.
With that, this is a super fun little ultralight spinning reel. It is incredibly affordable even though it is made from one of the top reel producers in the world.
If you want a little reel to take out into the creek to hunt for brookies or redeye, this is one of the best options available. There are two models, both of which fall into the ultralight category, the 500 (5.9oz) and the 1000 (6oz).
Both are identical except for a slight difference in size, and the 1000 model has a larger spool.
The 500 and 1000 models have a graphite frame with a machined aluminum bail (manual close) and spool. It’s a sleek looking reel with a black graphite body and aluminum components.
The 500 model can be spooled with up to 100 yards of 4lb test monofilament while the 1000 model can be spooled with 120yard. 6lb test monofilament comes in at 40 yards less than the 4lb test for each model.
While this is less than a lot of the other models we have looked at so far, this amount is plenty for the areas these reels are most useful.
This reel is made using Daiwa’s Digigear system which optimizes gear contact to give a smooth working reel under duress, and if you keep the big ones off the reel, there is never any lag in retrieval.
This model only comes with a single stainless steel ball bearing and it can feel jerky if you get a fish greater than .5lb on the line. Now, for a one ball bearing system, it really outperforms expectations.
There is no anti-reverse system on these reels. While it’s not an issue for little creek fish and even most panfish, this is an issue when it comes to working large fish.
These are pretty fast reels with both having a 4.9:1 gear ratio and line retrieval speeds of 21.4” which again, is excellent for stream fishing where the prey is often zipping around the water and bottom.
The spool is designed to allow line to leave cleanly and the rotor and line guide on these models does a fair job at minimizing line twist, though not as well as some of Daiwa’s other models of spinning reels.
These reels feature the common stacked drag system with a max drag of 4.4lbs each. The drag itself is smooth, and even if you do hook up on a larger fish, the start-up inertia is low enough not to risk breaking the line every time.
This is a true ultralight reel. With that, it can sometimes be a little awkward handling on the water just because of its compact design. We wished the handle extended a little further out from the body of the reel.
- Very affordable
- Well built
- Good casting
- Good drag for the size
- Daiwa gear system
- Very fun little reel
- No anti-reverse
- Hand bumps the bail when retrieving
- Strictly for small fish
The AV-10b model reel is made from a corrosion resistant graphite material that also greatly reduces the weight of this reel. It comes in at only 6oz and pairs great with a 4-5’ rod that excels in tight, small stream conditions.
While the body is sturdy enough for small game fish, it does not stand up as well to higher pressures that will come with larger fish as other reels do on this list.
It can still get the job done, and this might be the only characteristic of this reel that doesn’t make it the best ultralight option for chasing after bigger fish.
This reel is excellent for faster fishing applications where you would want a higher retrieval speed with 5.0:1 gear ratio and the retrieve is incredibly smooth in part because of the six ball bearings used in this reel.
These quality bearings also make the reel functional when you happen to, or purposefully, get into a mess of smallmouth bass.
Okuma also uses a very efficient and precise machine-cut gear system including a brass pinion gear, which also makes this a fantastic option for chasing fish a little bigger than trout or panfish.
The casting on the Okuma Avenger is also very pleasant, and the rotor and line lay system is a big reason. The computer balanced graphite rotor does an excellent job at minimizing line coiling on itself within the spool which makes a world of difference in casting distance.
This reel can spool up to 110yards of 4lb monofilament and 70 yards of 6lb mono. Again, this is more than enough for any ultralight fishing.
Like everything else on this reel, the drag system is impressive as well. It uses a stacked, multi-disk system of Japanese oiled felt that can put out 5lbs of max drag.
The oil soaked washers also make the drag incredibly smooth as it is pulled off of the spool. You have decent control of the pressure, but it seems that from 3-5lbs there is not a lot of finesse tuning.
Once it gets going, it’s one of the best drag systems on the list, but at the higher end of the drag, the start-up inertia is pretty noticeable, and if you have it set high with larger fish making a lot of stop and go, your light line tends to break.
We love the handle and grip on this reel. It extends well away from the body of the reel, and the extended paddleboat grip makes a lot of difference when having to work larger fish.
- Excellent handle and grip
- Smooth under pressure
- Excellent casting
- Great rotor
- Very light
- Smooth drag at lower ranges
- Jerky drag at high end of range
Before we let you go, we want to take a look at the five ultralight spinning reels that we have looked at so far and discuss our top pick. This in no way should detract from the quality or effectiveness of the other four models, but there is one that just stands out to us. That is the Revo SX reel.
It is not the lightest reel in the review, and we are sure there will be purists out there who might argue its classification as an ultralight, but for the topics presented in this article, this is our go-to reel, not to even mention other Abu Garcia lightweight reels.
It balances well with ultralight rods, and it has the drag, casting, and gear system to zip small lures through the water for the normal ultralight fishing applications and it also can work and land larger fish without risking malfunction.